Consumer eduction in the “New Times” : a critical discourse analysis of a policy for consumer education in Germany (2013)
1University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Sciences and Teacher Education, Educational Sciences
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The interest in consumer education by international organizations as well as the German government has dramatically increased throughout the last ten years. At the same time the critical voices regarding the negative implications of consumption as a dominant cultural practice are getting louder. Here, the current economic consumption discourse as well as consumer education is argued to be colored by the neo-liberal ideology that contributes to social and environmental exploitation. As such critical research suggests that there is a need to engage more critically with the current promotion of consumer education that is predominantly educating students to function within the neo-liberal system instead of challenging it for the sake of collective well-being. Specifically for the German context different NGOs (foodwatch, LobbyControl) have pointed out to how the current promotion of consumer education in Germany is colored by economic argumentation. The objective of this qualitative study was to question and challenge the hegemonic ways of thinking about consumption and consumer education and to contribute to a more critical discussion of consumer education and its implications for the society. As social transformations are increasingly manifested through and visible in discourse in the ‘new times’ this study, therefore, analysed a policy for consumer education as a product of the ‘new times’ that was published in 2013 in Germany. The goal was to investigate which discourses the policy is drawing from, how they are worked together in the policy and whether the text is doing ideological work in terms of sustaining the current economization of society. The two main research questions were: 1. What discourses are included into the policy for consumer education and how are they ordered? 2. Does the text do ideological work in terms of working towards the stabilization and spread of neo-liberalism and consumerism? The study was conducted using Fairclough’s approach to Critical Discourse Analysis that draws from postmodern, poststructuralist as well as neo-marxist theories. It combines critical social science with sociolinguisticcs and as such offered a suitable framework for critically studying the policy text. By applying this methodological framework it was possible to combine the analysis of language, discourse and the social environment which are considered to be dialogically related to each other. This research showed that the education policy text draws on the neo-liberal, social-democrat and critical consumption discourse where it could be determined that the neo-liberal discourse is dominant and marginalizes the other discourses. Furthermore, it could be shown how the policy text fosters ideological transformation by partially promoting an education that works towards the spread of neo-liberal ideology. This ideological work is majorly achieved through fostering a lack of imagination and acceptance of current changes instead of offering view-points that also challenge the current transformations in society. As a result the policy fosters a consumer education that educates students to function within the system instead of drawing from the critical pedagogy discourse that calls for emancipation and empowerment for the sake of collective well-being. However, the policy is not entirely dedicated to the neo-liberal project and together with the insights from this research gives space for a more critical interpretation and implementation.
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